To keep a close watch on half a continent is quite a challenge. But for Tatiana Künsch, Marketing Activation Manager LatAm at The Absolut Company, it’s home turf. We had a chat with her on what makes the brand tic for her consumers – all the way from the banks of the Rio Grande in the north down to shores of Patagonia in the south.
How’s Absolut doing in Latin America?
I’d say it’s doing great as a whole. However, Latin America is a very big and diverse cluster of markets where Brazil only is as large as the whole of EU, so it’s huge. And it’s a very Absolut friendly market where the brand is seen as a premium and cool on the same level as Apple.
Which markets are you responsible for?
All markets in South and Latin America – from Mexico to Uruguay. But my main markets are Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and the Caribbean. Absolut’s image is very similar in all markets. We’re perceived as very premium and progressive and just about every big city in my market is big on Absolut, which kind of makes my job easier.
Are there any big differences?
For sure. In Mexico, they have an affinity for tequila that differs quite a lot from most other markets. Argentina is more European – almost like they were a part of Italy. They drink wine and aperitif. In Brazil, where I’m based, most people drink cachaça, which in general is considered a low tier spirit – even though there are some premium brands. Otherwise, Brazilians love to drink whisky. We actually consume more whisky/capita than the Scotts! But vodka in general and Absolut in particular is very popular in all markets.
Why’s the brand so successful in your part of the world?
I think it’s a combination of product quality, the instant brand recognition due to the iconic bottle, the legacy of the brand and the fact that it is seen as very innovative. Our marketing initiatives are usually very impactful here when we use the global campaigns but tweak them to suit our consumers. We localize assets and use our specific traits. Bruna Marquezine is our main talent here in Brazil. She’s very influential and relevant to Gen Z. All her flights perform very well. I think this approach, to be a global brand and to always have a local approach to our activations, is what makes the magic.
What’s most challenging with your job?
Most complicated is to work in different time zones. With HQs in Sweden, I’ve only small four-hour window to make contact. It’s great to be able to work independently, but it’s also a bit tricky at times. It’s also challenging to be responsible for such a vast and diverse market. We always need to generate insights on consumer behaviors and other things and there are some very noticeable differences between the markets. So, it’s hard work to stay on top of everything that happens when you’ve got so much ground to cover.
Being a sustainable company requires both effort and stamina. But often, a lack of resources and an overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to begin can impose obstacles. That’s where Ethos and Jonathan Milläng, Head of Sustainable Finance, can help. We had a chat with him on how to get sustainability work off the ground and on the agenda.
What kind of sustainability work does Ethos perform?
Basically, we identify where in the value chain a company’s greatest impact is. Today, Ethos provides services within five different areas: Sustainable Business Development, Human Rights & Anti-corruption, Sustainable Finance, Environmental Affairs, and Sustainability Reporting. Our clients often start by analyzing how they can work with sustainability issues, both to reduce their negative impact and maximize the positive – what is called a materiality analysis. Many companies unfortunately focus on the wrong things – for example, IT should not invest energy in ensuring that employees drive electric cars, but rather make sure that all the energy used to store info in the cloud or on company servers comes from a renewable source.
What types of companies ask Ethos for help?
Ethos has customers from all walks of life and we are contacted by companies from very different sectors and industries. Regardless of where the customer comes from, we pretty much have the same MO; step 1 is a risk and impact analysis in which we look at what may be, or already is, critical for the business or fund and step 2 is establishing an action plan for how to maximize/minimize positive/negative impact within the areas of environment and climate change, labor rights, human rights, and anti-corruption as well as the governance of all of these areas based on the nature of the business or assets under management.
What is the most common inquiry for you?
Personally, I’m mostly asked to help our financial clients reach sustainability targets and compliance with new regulations. There are a lot of incoming new legal requirements from the EU on how companies should establish and utilize their influence. The idea is to get away from diluted sustainability reports where you just sort of write that you have a charity initiative, or that you only serve vegetarian food in the mess hall. The EU wants to ensure that companies work on their core business and improve sustainability where it truly matters.
Is sustainability work difficult?
Both yes and no. It becomes easier the more people learn about the issues and get used to working with them in the right way. I think it was harder some years ago when people didn’t think it was as financially material. On the other hand, there’s a lot still to be done on issues concerning social sustainability and human rights. This is still uncharted territory and sadly you’re likely to find slavery and/or child labor in almost every complex value chain you scrutinize. This is due to several reason; the fact that it’s not legally required to work with human rights issues in your full value chain and the fact that neither investors nor customers are clear about the actual requirements and regulations in all markets. This uncertainty makes it difficult to accept and carry the costs of working full-on with human rights issues. But that does by no means mean that there aren’t companies that has this it on their agenda. There are several good examples in every sector and the best one’s are those who’ve already started to report on these specific issues – they’ve identified the problems and are working to solve them. In the last couple of years, we’ve noticed an increase in how much people actually consider sustainability issues from a business perspective. The sustainability strategy must be in line with the business strategy – and not be considered as something you do half-heartedly or as a side business to earn a little goodwill. If you do not understand how you are affected by climate risks, you are more exposed. But if you acknowledge this and take active decisions to be sustainable, you’ll not only do good for the planet but also make a better investment case because you are better prepared than the competition.
What is a green investment?
There is an EU framework, called the EU Taxonomy, which is a classification for green investments. It works in the same way as the Linnaeus’ system for plants and animals. There are several thresholds and requirements that must be met, based on which sector you are active in. The sectors that are in the biggest need of adjustment are pinpointed and the demands on them are increased. When it comes to green funds, for example, they have a large predominance of companies with a low climate impact. But that doesn’t mean that you – as an investor – have an actual impact on sustainability related issues. If you want to really make your money count, it might be better to invest in where the investment will make a bigger difference. This is what the legislators and legislation want to help explain. Because it should be easy to understand where your investment can make the biggest and greenest difference.
Quarterly capitalism is often spoken of as a contrast to more long-term investments. What kind of implications does a transition to a greener investment strategy have, both short- and long-term?
The pandemic and the war in Ukraine may have had the implication that investors are now starting to look at other risks and adapt a more long-term perspective. Being more risk-averse. The EU taxonomy is mostly focused on infrastructure companies – they are essential for society to function, but they also need to change. And you must keep an eye on that when you invest – you can’t just simply throw money at tech start-ups and hope they’ll solve everything. Investments in companies that are considered a bit less exciting are also needed. The need for houses and roads won’t stop, but we need to find less environmentally harmful ways to get there.
Absolut Vodka has a long-standing history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. We had a chat with Maxime Henain, the Campaign Lead, about the upcoming Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign. Highlighting the importance of a chosen family and safe spaces, we learn how Absolut is driving consumer-centricity and how the brand will continue to be at the forefront as an advocate and ally to the community.
What’s the story behind the concept for the Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign?
The concept took inspiration from a consumer insight deeply rooted in the lives of our LGBTQIA+1 consumers. After conducting some consumer research, which confirmed that many people from the LGBTQIA+ community still experience rejection from their biological families, we were inspired to create a campaign about the concept of chosen family. Even though things are getting better––and I want to emphasize that they gradually are––our research showed that one in two from the LGBTQIA+ community experience rejection in some way. This is a really sad number.
After dialoguing with some charities we have been partnering with for years, we confirmed our belief that creating and safeguarding safe spaces is key for the community. These may be physical or mental safe spaces, such as a support system, if you will. When we speak about physical spaces, we typically refer to venues, bars, and clubs where you can meet your chosen family. Unfortunately, these places are disappearing. Absolut Vodka is a social brand by nature. We’ve been mixing people up for years, and we enjoy this catalyst role, bringing people from all walks of life together to meet over our drinks. This is also how we’ve been present in the community for more than 40 years now, by being present in those safe spaces. This is how we decided to hero the chosen families formed within the community, and to hero the power of these.
1 LGBTQIA+ is the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.
The campaign says, “Here’s to the family you choose!”. You touched on this, but could you describe the importance of a chosen family a bit more?
Having a family-like support system in the community is crucial. We wanted to highlight these chosen families in our campaign and emphasize their importance as a support system, which is not only relevant to the LGBTQIA+ community. Most people can probably relate to having a chosen family of friends you feel connected to in this way; these people whom you have such a special bond with.
We have had three words as our guiding principle from the beginning: power, not pity. Over the past few years, the advertising featuring the LGBTQIA+ community has often focused on the struggles. As a brand, we are still a passionate advocate for fighting against any forms of discrimination together with our partners through lots of local actions, not shying away from the struggles. But this time around, we wanted to represent acceptance and love in a different way.
What is the key to creating a relevant campaign on this?
There are two things at play here. First, we made sure to work with partners from the LGBTQIA+ community. From the teams, the PR agency, the cultural agency, the photographer, and the director to all the talents, almost all are from the community. This enabled us to have very interesting discussions from the conceptualization of the project and was key for me to make the campaign relevant and authentic. The second is that our consumer feedback and communications with charities confirmed my and the creative team’s gut feeling for the project––this is crucial to ensure that the work resonates with consumers; otherwise, there is no need to proceed.
What’s been most challenging working with this project?
I expected the education within the organization to be more of a challenge than it turned out to be. The aim for us was to show a broader representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in the campaign, showing the rich spectrum of people the community is made of. That diversity and richness is such a strength. This is also where I personally realized how strong the LGBTQIA+ culture is and how it is gradually spilling over into the mainstream, which is fascinating to witness.
Absolut will also take this further in the years to come in future campaigns, and we have decided to create an internal LGBTQIA+ network for our employees. We’re in the process of putting it all together, and we are quite excited about it. Basically, the purpose is to educate and create a safe space for the employees to connect, chat, and make sure that we can be as inclusive as possible as an employer.
Absolut has a long history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. How does this historical significance come into play in the Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign?
We have been supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community for a long time, it is very much part of our DNA. We have always believed that everyone should be able to love whom they choose. Back then, in the early days, we bought ad placements in LGBTQIA+ magazines when no one else dared to. We have been working with artists from the community for a long time––through art collaborations with Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Tom Ford, for instance––which gave them a platform and supported the fantastic work they put together. We have also been partnering with charities from GLAAD to Stonewall. We are a proud partner of the Gilbert Baker Foundation, which is very dear to us. We have been heroing his legacy on our Rainbow Limited Edition bottles for some years now.
We have been, and are, part of this culture and are incredibly proud of contributing to it. Inevitably, after working with the community for a while and sharing some values, we feel that we are constantly getting to know each other, and I must say that some of our markets have very close ties to some charities. Working hand in hand with our partners allows us not to feel shy in this space. We’ve all seen blatant instances of rainbow-washing in the past few years. Advocacy within the community is built over time, so we are proud of pushing that historical legacy, especially as the community is prompt to call out pink-washing––and rightly so!
How does Absolut’s work with and for the queer community differ from other leading companies in the industry?
We, at Absolut Vodka, have always been a brand for, not against anything. I will be among the first to applaud and very much support the good work done by other companies, including competitors. I think some brands are finding interesting angles and support the LGBTQIA+ cause in their way, and we support these––this cannot be a case of us vs. them. The fight for more inclusivity and acceptance needs all the allies it can get! But most important of all, the support needs to be authentic and consistent over time.
We favor a grassroots and local approach by partnering with local charities in our markets to help us push our acceptance message, as we have done for 40+ years. At the end of the day, it helps us keep our feet on the ground by being as relevant as possible to what our consumers are experiencing, and it helps us keep our finger on the pulse. This may not be the magic recipe, but this is how Absolut does it.
What is Absolut’s role in the LGBTQIA+ community today? How can you continue to be a strong supporter in years to come?
We are supporters of foundations like the Gilbert Baker Foundation, GLAAD in the US, the Stonewall Foundation in the UK, and others in markets like Australia or Spain. We also do grassroots work by supporting local LGBTQIA+ charities. This is something that we will continue to do. The second thing is regarding our role as a social brand by essence. We are here to create social and convivial moments by being present in venues and during Pride celebrations and events. But we are also doing a lot of work outside of Pride and want to make sure that we create these great experiences for the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the year as well––that’s a sort of raison d’etre, that’s what we do, and that’s what we’re here for.
We will also continue to push the envelope in the years to come through different activations like the Out & Open campaign in the US, which is fighting against the closing down of physical safe spaces and raising awareness on the issue with the help of Bowen Yang. Recently, the media has shown that power, not pity for the community, is also a complementary way to portray the community. The Netflix show Heartstopper, which got incredible reviews, is the first LGBTQIA+ show that portrays love, romance, and identity in a warmer and light-hearted way. This feels altogether soothing.
As I’ve said, we’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years; however, some of our rights are still in danger. I will always believe there’s more to be done. And Absolut will always be at the forefront.
Where and when will the campaign run?
It began running in Australia during the summer and the Australian Mardi Gras in February and March. We are really happy with how our consumers responded there. We’re now approaching the pride season of the Northern Hemisphere, starting in June and ending in August. The campaign will run in some European markets, the global travel and retail business, and with some variations in the US and Canada. In the US, for instance, we are going deeper into safe spaces, tackling the issue of disappearing physical spaces. I am really excited to see the consumer’s response.
What is your goal for the Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign? How would you like it to be received?
It is twofold. First, I want our LGBTQIA+ consumer to look at the campaign and feel like they can relate. We all have chosen families, and they are essential––whether you are part of the LGBTQIA+ community or not. No matter the hardship of coming out, this is your chosen family, they are your support system, and they have your back.
The second thing pertains to the wider public, and this is to recognize the campaign’s sentiment. We didn’t want to create an LGBTQIA+ campaign that non-LGBTQIA+ consumers wouldn’t understand and vice versa. This is where we believe that, although experienced differently, the insight of Chosen Family proves to be broad and universal. Indeed, my goal was to show that even though you’re not from the community, a chosen family is something many of us can relate to––this is something most of us all have in common, and Absolut, as a brand, always wants to highlight what brings us closer. I believe campaigns highlighting this positive side do contribute to further acceptance and close the infamous us vs. them gap.
Can you please share a personal, cherished, chosen family moment with us?
You know those family celebrations that are very traditional, like Christmas and Easter? I remember moments when I was living abroad and couldn’t celebrate with family, moments when my chosen family was extremely important and felt just as cherished. These moments are about the love that is shared around the table. It’s usually during a meal. (Maybe because I’m French, but it’s usually a meal!) You get together with friends, and you have that moment together, and it feels like family––it is family––and at that specific moment, that mix of people simply feels like home. I am convinced we can all relate to that.
Every year, incredible amounts of food, fruit and vegetables are thrown away for no reason. And that’s not the way to go about it. At least not if you ask Truls Christenson, CEO of Rscued, who’s on a mission to turn leftovers into must-haves. We had a chat with him about how to best make juice from all the fruits and vegetables that no one else wants.
Why did you start Rscued?
Helsingborg is Sweden’s largest port for fruit and vegetables. Almost everything that is imported to Sweden lands here, and there are huge warehouses scattered around the city that house all the produce that’s about to be distributed across the country. Of course, this also means that there will be a lot of waste here – some thirty percent of all fruit grown gets thrown away – and that’s why we started Rscued. We discovered that there was nothing wrong with most of everything that was discarded. On the contrary, it was actually worth saving and the easiest way to do so was to make juice.
How do you get hold of all the fruit?
As I mentioned, we live in the city that has Sweden’s largest fruit and vegetable port. This means that there are lots of warehouses, wholesalers and shops that can supply us with discarded produce. But we also receive deliveries from the rest of Sweden, and regularly drive to pick up food waste from Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm. In 2021, we took care of 439 tones of fruit and vegetables. It takes a lot of logistics to make everything work smoothly and an even greater amount of creativity to quickly produce high-quality products. Our challenge is that we don’t know what will get delivered each day – the range varies depending on season, variety and maturity – so we need to stay flexible around what products we produce; juices, shots, smoothies, ice cream, chips and hummus are just a few examples of what we have launched so far. As Rscued has grown, it has also become much easier for us to get our hands on fruit and vegetables. Today we are established, we have our own factory and we’re used to receiving and handling large quantities of unknown produce on short notice.
What’s the strangest delivery you’ve received?
Over the years, we have received a lot of requests that we haven’t been able to accommodate. Some years ago, we were asked if we could rescue 40 tons of watermelons, which is quite bulky. We declined the entire delivery but accepted to receive two tons. The problem with watermelon is that it can’t be pasteurized. The taste completely changes for the worse when heated up – it becomes a bland and unpleasant and is not suited to make juice from. We also regularly receive large deliveries of bananas which can also be tricky to handle. Bananas are sensitive and the must be sorted and peeled by hand. This week, we’ve just received 6 tons, so there will probably be a bit of late-night peel work to get the job done before they are too ripe. Otherwise, the strangest delivery is probably the 18 tons of pineapple we got from a drug bust in Rotterdam. We had no idea what to do with them, so we had to google “how to make pineapple juice” and then start cooking as fast as we could. In the end, we actually managed to salvage 14 of the 18 tons received. There were 25,000 bottles of pineapple juice ready for the store shelves in just a couple of weeks’ time.
Which Rscued is your favorite so far?
Wow, that’s hard to say. We’ve made so many different varieties over the years. But if I must choose one, I’d opt for the blood orange and Sichuan pepper shot that we just launched. I think it turned out unexpectedly well with a slightly surprising “poppy” effect from the pepper.
And which one are you the least happy with?
We once tried our luck with tea. It was a hipster-banja tea that was a fusion with our juice. Didn’t work at all – neither in taste nor sales.
What is the next step in the development?
Last year, we saved just over 400 tons of fruit and vegetables, but there is incredible potential to save more of the food that gets thrown away, not only fruit and vegetables. Just take all the bread that goes in the trash every year. There’s definitely something to be done there. It’s also no secret that we’re looking to start new ventures outside of Sweden as well. Food is thrown away to the same extent everywhere in the world and we want to help change that.
Malibu has always been all about summers. But getting into a vacation groove shouldn’t be restricted to 3 short summer months every year. We had a chat with Filip Kiisk, Head of Brand Creative at The Absolut Company, on how Malibus’ new big idea “Do Whatever Tastes Good” will help bring relevance to the brand – regardless of the season.
What can you tell us about Malibu’s new big idea “Do Whatever Tastes Good”?
“Do Whatever Tastes Good” aims to reframe the brand from being associated with summer as a season to summer as a mindset – we want people to be able to enjoy a tasty Piña Colada regardless of the season and connect our consumers to their summer mindset all year round. It’s a clear and clever concept, and a perfect next step for Malibu.
How will Malibu work with this outside of the summer months?
The beauty of owning and celebrating the summer mindset rather than the season of summer is that you can experience it any time of the year. As a brand, this gives us permission to show up all year round and gives our consumers permission to enjoy Malibu all year round. In our first campaign “Welcome to Malibu”, Malibu is a place where everyone is at ease enjoying what they like, when they like. It’s fun and lighthearted and showcases a multitude of drinking occasions – some less traditional than others!
How will the campaign be launched?
“Welcome to Malibu” is the first part of bringing our “Do Whatever Tastes Good” platform to life. The campaign will live for at least 2 years. During that time, we’ll continue to activate the platform, with culturally resonant work more closely focused on cocktails and product.
The campaign will live globally and be activated in local markets across all media so look out for some exciting out of home and social activity too. We are starting in the US market on April 25th and other key markets will follow in the beginning of summer.
As the campaign evolves over the coming months, ideas will have strong social media foundations and earned media ambitions. We want to get people to engage with what we do. Our lead agency, Wieden+Kennedy, is a fantastic partner for these types of campaigns. They have their finger on the pulse of culture and keep a close eye on our audiences tastes and behaviors which will ensure that we stay relevant.
What was most challenging about the production?
This production has been one of the most challenging and rewarding ones I’ve ever been part of. We had the privilege of working with the creative genius Dave Meyers – a music video director from LA who has worked with every big artist out there and he creates just the kind of culturally relevant aesthetic we love. Dave’s work was referenced throughout the development phase of the project and we loved his style. So, when we got him on board the project, it felt like hitting the jackpot. Everything just clicked! The actual filming was done in Mexico City, and we of course worked within strict covid protocols, with success. We filmed for five consecutive days with a huge crew across a variety of locations and a studio. There’s a lot of dancing in almost every scene, so coordination was really important. Thankfully we had the insanely talented choreographer Hi-Hat and rehearsed everything for weeks before so once the camera rolled, it all worked like a charm. People say never work with animals – but that’s because they’ve never worked with a coconut horse!
Last month saw the release of a new visual design for the Absolut Vodka flavors range. We had a chat with Jonas Andersson, CEO at Brand Union, about the process of reworking the iconic line-up.
What was most challenging when working on this project?
I’d say that it was hard to stay true to the initial idea during the entire process. The idea that we ended up doing was in fact already in the first proposal we presented to the Absolut team. And hanging on to the same concept for three and a half years was, I must admit, difficult at times. However, the idea was so direct and instantly likable that it was worth fighting for. We wanted it to stay clean and not add too many distortions or elements that would make it less powerful. We’ve been working with The Absolut Company since 2008 and we’ve been part of the last two design remakes, so we know how to work together to achieve the best results. There’s a great level of mutual trust that I think is essential in these kinds of projects. And I’m super happy with the outcome.
Did you have any prerequisites that needed to be taken into considerations when you developed the creative concept?
The brief was to create a more consistent look and feel for the entire product family. The existing design was a bit too focused on the individual flavors. We wanted the full range to be in focus, not the single products. That being said, we did of course have to include elements such as logo, bottle outline and cap, but other than that, the initial paper was pretty blank.
Which flavor was the hardest to get the right design for?
Once the concept was set, I think we pretty much had a straight journey to finish products. But the Watermelon were perhaps a bit trickier to get just right.
How did you come up with the idea for the range?
The basic idea came from our designer Linus. He came up with the concept the day before the presentation, so he stayed up all night and worked it through – he actually slept at the office. I’d say he really went above and beyond to make the vision come alive and it really paidoff. As I mentioned earlier, the concept we presented in the first meeting is still very close to the finished products.
How many people has been involved in the process?
Besides the core team, I’d say at least 50 persons from our side has been involved in some way during these 3,5 years. It’s been a priority for the entire agency to get everything perfect.
Today marks the 112th consecutive International Women’s Day. To put an extra spotlight on female leadership in the Pernod Ricard group, we had a conversation with Stéphanie Durroux, CEO of The Absolut Company, and Mauve Croizat, CEO of Pernod Ricard Sweden and Northern Europe, on their experiences as leaders in an international context.
First of all, how do you feel about the International Women’s Day? Do we need one?
Stéphanie Durroux: My first reaction would be to say, in France and a few other countries, it’s not the International Women’s Day but the International Women’s Rights Day. Which I think makes a big difference. Regardless of the name, I do think it’s a good way to acknowledge the fact that fighting for the rights of women still remains necessary in many parts of the world.
Mauve Croizat: Agreed. I wish we wouldn’t need a Woman’s Day but if we take on a more a global outlook, unfortunately women’s rights are still an issue that needs to be addressed.
Did you have any female role models growing up?
Mauve: I would say you, Stéphanie. Stéphanie: Ha, ha, – wow, thank you Mauve.
Mauve: I wasn’t sure if you knew that. I’m usually not that much into role models. I think I rather have a selection of people that I get inspired by. People who have strong values and the courage of going through things and learn from their experiences. I’m not sure that I would necessarily name someone specific that I see as a role model, but a strong personality is always inspiring, and I think I would put you Stéphanie in this bracket.
Stéphanie: I’m the same. I don’t think I have specific role models or people that I systematically refer to. I was brought up in a family where all women worked. We are three sisters in the family, of which I’m the youngest, and we’ve all continued to pursue individual careers. My mother was a doctor and my two grandmothers used to work as well: one as a schoolteacher and one as a farmer. The latter one became a widow before she turned 50 but it didn’t stop her from running the farm by herself. I don’t know if they are to be called traditional role models but to me, just the fact that all women around me growing up worked, were independent and made their own choices in life has been important.
Mauve: I’m not looking for any type of any type of pattern here, but I’m also the youngest of three sisters. Maybe that has a greater impact on your personality than you think.
Stéphanie: You’re maybe on to something here Mauve.
Mauve: I’d say that it has two sides to it – being the youngest, you are sometimes somewhat of a third wheel, and you have to make your presence known a bit more at times. Does that mean that we, being the youngsters in our families, have had to fight for ourselves more? I personally don’t think so, but I’m sure the way we were raised has had some impact.
What would you consider your greatest asset as a leader?
Mauve: I tend to believe that there are no specific gender dependent leadership traits. In my view, leadership is more about evolving the culture, the environment and everything else that’s universal and not attributed to male or female inherent qualities or prejudice. When it comes down to my own personal assets as a leader, I’d say it’s probably better to ask the teams I’m part of. But if I must take a swing at it, I’d go with humor. That and empathy and the fact that I am very approachable as a leader.
Stéphanie: I totally agree with you Mauve – both on your sense of humor and the fact that it’s always a bit difficult to reflect on yourself. I don’t know if it’s an asset, but I believe that somehow being a female in my type of role can be advantageous. It brings on a sort of freedom and a sense that you don’t necessarily have to be compared and benchmarked with many others. Besides that, I too hope that I’m perceived as approachable and straightforward.
Do you have any specific leadership philosophies that you try to follow?
Stéphanie: To me, it’s as important to be a team player as a leader. Or, at least, you cannot be a leader without working with others. I don’t care too much for hands-off leaders. I believe in people who know how to play the game and do it well by making sure they are included in the team. You exist with your teams – meaning you share the wins and endure the punches together. Meryl Streep once said that “you can’t do your job and be afraid” and to me that’s absolutely true and accurate.
Mauve: I second what Stéphanie just said. I was going to say that for me, the motor would be to lead by example, and I think that’s really in line with everything Stéphanie just described.
What advice would you give to young women who wants to peruse a career as a leader?
Mauve: To start trust yourself. It’s natural for everyone to doubts their own abilities from time to time. Lack of confidence is universal and not a specific female trait and it’s important to always be aware of that and to actively work with changing your mindsets. The sky is your limit, you just need to stretch yourself to reach it.
Stéphanie: I fully agree with Mauve. Awareness is key. I also believe that sometimes it’s good to just forget that you are a woman. You’re an individual leader and not just a female leader. Trust yourself to make the right decisions.
Pernod Ricard has an outspoken goal to be gender balanced by 2030. Why is that important?
Mauve: Statistics and facts show the importance of having a more diverse organization, not necessarily limited to gender. Facts show it is driving better results and reflect better our marketplace but ultimately for me, it is also about females being 50% of the population with no reason for Pernod Ricard’s employees to be any different.
Stéphanie: Same answer for me. There are variations and differences between the Pernod Ricard markets, but I think it’s a very clear message that we’re sending that gender balance – as well as other backgrounds, nationality and so on – is something we’re constantly focusing on.
What do you love most about your job?
Stéphanie: Probably the fact that I so strongly feel that it’s more than a job. I never consider it to be a mere nine-to-five duty. It’s something that makes me feel happy and gives me meaning.
Mauve: I think this might come off as a bit cheesy, but I will say it anyway. I’ll sum it up in one word – conviviality, as we call it. I love this industry we’re working in, and I love the fact that we are all about bringing people together. To me, it’s far more than a job.
Absolutdrinks.com isn’t just the biggest site in the Pernod Ricard company group, it’s where you find all the info you need on how to make the most exotic cocktail, or the best long drink, no matter what spirit you have in mind. We had a chat with Hanna Kastås, who’s been a crucial part of developing the Absolut drinks eco-system for all things mixable available on several digital platforms.
Why did you start the Absolut drinks site?
The initial insight was that we, at Absolut, manufacture spirits, but people drink drinks. So, we felt a need to help people up their bartending game and to move drink mixing into the kitchen at home. And that’s how absolutdrinks.com was born back in -06. This is a site meant to function as a source for inspiration, it’s about what you can actually make using our product and other spirits – what to drink, what ingredients to use, how to mix, how to serve and so on. Today, we have collected over 4 000 drinks in our database. Apart from finding new drinks, new ways of categorizing them and new ways to present them, we’re also focusing a lot on organic Search Engine Optimisation to make sure we’re popping up as the no 1 site when consumers are searching for anything drink related. And this is pure organic growth, we’re not putting any media spend behind the site. And the great thing about that is that our visitors are truly interested in our content. So, the growth is slow, but it’s steady.
How has the Absolut drinks universe expanded since 2006?
Over the years, we’ve created a whole eco-system of drinks related content. The system is fitted to reach different target audiences, with both broad features and niche content. There’s a whole array of services available now and the common thread is that they all lead back to the drinks database – the heart of the system. The database contains everything connected to making drinks; ingredients, measurements, images, films, alcohol strength and recommendations of garnish, ice and glass. The recipes are categorized according to taste and occasion. Apart from absolutdrinks.com, one of our strongest platforms is YouTube, where we have a series called Drinks with… The whole purpose is to showcase how easy it is to mix drinks at home, and we have a series of hosts that can help guide through all the steps in the mixing process. Adding to that, we’ve also developed a video platform called Drinks in motion. This is a collection of clips of the different stages of drink mixing that are automatically added together to create tutorials. The whole point of the ecosystem is to make it easily accessible for everyone who has an interest in drinks to learn how to mix and make everything from beginner cocktails to advanced long drinks.
How big is the team working with all this?
We’re currently about 7 people working on different parts of the ecosystem and absolutdrinks.com. We each have different competences; there’s developers, designers, copy writers and strategists on staff. Plus data analyst specialists and SEO-experts. We’re not a large team but I think we do a stellar job in going head to heads with bigger editorial sources.
What’s your biggest learnings from building the Absolutdrinks ecosystem?
I think the biggest – and most crucial – learning is that you need to keep it simple. Everything from how you find the drinks to how you make them in your own home needs to be easy and fun. People are curious to try new things, but they don’t want to be intimidated by complicated recipes and hard to get ingredients. That’s the reason why we’ve invested so much time and energy into making sure our content matches our SEO. To give an example: during the first wave of the pandemic, we saw a spike in traffic coming from Brazil. Covid had a profound impact on their domestic tv-productions, which meant that Brazilian tv started showing re-runs of a show called Laços de Família. In this show, they have a certain penchant for a drink called Casablanca, which spawned a trend amongst Brazilians that wanted to try out the drink. We picked up the spike and were quick to optimize the page content and that meant a lot of domestic Brazilian traffic we’re directed at absolutdrinks.com. And our content is of such high quality that visitors keep returning.
What are you working on now?
We’re optimizing our app “Drinkspiration”, also putting lots of effort into expanding our YouTube universe. We have Absolut drinks with… as our center of gravity, but we want to bring in new faces and ambassadors to be even more culturally relevant in different parts of the world. We’re also looking into how to utilize voice media. Amazon Alexa already has our drinks recipe database incorporated in their native search and this is something we want to continue to develop and explore. Voice is growing and we want to be part of that expansion. We’re also looking into developing our editorial content further. More filmed content for different platforms, new collaborations to reach new audiences and perhaps something for the gaming community. The important thing is that we’re not doing anything that doesn’t feel relevant and honest. Our content needs to add something.
Which is the most sought-after drink recipe?
Espresso Martini. Without a doubt. It’s been the most popular drink for quite some time now. People just don’t seem to get enough of it and I understand it. If you haven’t tried it you should!
60 ml Absolut Vodka
15 ml Dry Vermouth
Stir all ingredients with ice and serve in a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon zest.
30 ml Kahlúa
30 ml Absolut vodka 30 ml Espresso
Shake all ingredients until cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with coffee beans.
As captain of finances, it’s the CFO’s job to make sure treasure chests are opened for the right opportunities. But to get hold of the Absolut keys, aspiring seekers need to navigate their cases through a tough archipelago, where all arguments are scrutinized by the warm hearted but highly competitive Irishman named Donny Tobin. We had a chat with him on how to make or break a case at the Absolut Company.
You’ve had a long career at Pernod Ricard. What’s your view on how the business have evolved over the years?
While we have grown as a business many ingredients have stayed constant…the amazing culture, great people, and strong brands. But over time, I think that the organization has become much more agile. It’s in many ways fair to say that the industry isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago, when I joined the Pernod Ricard. Competition is more intense, consumers more dynamic. We are also bigger now and that means we also have more fire power to compete. But being bigger also means that expectations grow and as an organization, I think it’s crucial that you’re able to roll with the changes, and not try to fight them. For Pernod Ricard, I think that having adapted a more flexible attitude to embrace change, has made us more resilient to fast shifts in the markets. We have embarked on a digital transformation to further expand our business model, which I think has also helped us a lot during the pandemic. The ultimate ambition is to evolve into a platform company, where the brands and people can grow. Our people are resilient, our Business is resilient and that has proven to be successful in trying times.
TAC is working hard to foster and retain an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit within the company. How do you work with innovation in your team?
The overall creativity that’s inherent in TAC is amazing. As an organization, we’re really open to stretch the boundaries. And Finance is no different, playing a key role, whether on the product side, where we need to understand the consumer needs to fully be able to act as a sounding board for creative solutions or on the technology side to allow data to be more relevant and move faster to support decisions. It’s our job to connect the ‘business dots’ to enable innovation and to make sure we’re invest behind the right choices and at the right level. Of course, our Group Finance 4.0 vision is anchored on this progressive mindset.
Is development constantly required or are there still some old truths that always apply, especially in the field of finance?
Consumers continuously evolve… therefore organizations like TAC need to also evolve and be at the forefront of culture and creativity. Same also applies to Finance. Not only do we need to ensure that the foundations are strong, but we also need to embrace progress. Today, I think we have achieved a near perfect balance of a solid foundation and high-flying creativity revolving around that. And that is what helps us to continuously evolve as an organization. There are no revolutions, just progression, right. Both TAC and Pernod Ricard are organizations with solid core values and principles but with a curious mindset and that has helped us both become and continue to be successful. Our values and foundations stay the same, but our creativity can rotate freely around them, with Finance playing a great business partnering role.
What does the motto Passion for Progression mean to you?
I think that I didn’t perhaps fully appreciate the meaning until I came to TAC. The company has always stood for something and after coming here I now truly understand the value of always supporting progression and to move forward with the flow. I, as a person, am driven by passion. I believe that something inside you must burn for you to feel motivated, enabled and to be creative. I wholeheartedly support the notion of progression as a means to succeed – as a business and on a personal level.
What areas do you see as most important to continue to develop within TAC?
We need to take a closer look at where we want to win and how to win it. It’s a big part of my job to add value to the company by removing the mist and clarify the road forward. To help choose which battles to engage in and which challenges that are worth accepting. And this is something that I think we’re already good at, but that we can refine further to do even better. We have our strategic North Star, it’s our compass, now it’s about trusting people and empowering them to find their own way based on their experience, knowledge and skills.
What values do you think Absolut creates?
Together, Audacious, Committed… we have great values inherent in our brand and one thing we’re particularly good at is to stay true to these. We, as a company, are committed to do the right thing and I as a person was brought up with the same type of values. I want to win, but I only want to win in the right way, and I think the same goes for The Absolut Company.
Why did you join The Absolut Company?
Well, for starters, the job was offered to me. It took about 2 minutes to graciously accept the offer with a lot of pleasure. It’s a new experience for me; with new brands and in a new country. I’d only been to Sweden twice prior to joining The Absolut Company, but I had such a great feeling about coming here. Professionally, yes it was also a leadership step up, but The Absolut Company is the biggest in the family, with amazingly fun and relevant brands. I wanted an audacious experience and Absolut is for sure offering this.
How are you as a leader?
Although competitive and ambitious, I’d like to think that I’m a kind of down to earth leader. I hope I understand people and what makes them tick and how that energy can be transferred to the organization. I empower as much I can in my role as a leader and I put a lot of trust in my teams. Being a team player at heart, I love to hang around people and to be present where and when things are happening. Of course, I can be challenging if needed but I’m trying to be careful about when to play that card!!.
Do you have the same approach in the Management team?
I’m definitely not the quiet Irishman sitting in the corner… I think the other members of the management team see me as a guy who is always in the game but isn’t that easily stressed. And that I’m a guy who’s also seen as authentic. For me, it’s important to stay true to my values – in all aspects of life – both personal and professional.
One might say that you’ve been all over the place – being an expat Irishmen who has lived everywhere from Sydney to New York and who’s now based in Stockholm. Do you have a favorite spot in the world?
I like so many places, so it’s hard to pick a favorite as it keeps changing. When you travel as much as I do, you tend to pick up new favorite places along the way. But if you twist my arm, I can’t get around the fact that I still love to come home to my hometown in Tipperary, Ireland. One other place that stands out is Nepal. I trekked up to the basecamp on Everest a few years ago and for me, that was one of the most humbling and down to earth experiences in my life. An unforgettable trip in a fantastic country.
Besides traveling and pushing your own limits, what are you passionate about outside of work?
I’m a competitive guy so I am naturally drawn to anything sports related. You might even say that I’m a sports addict. When I lived in the US, I loved to coach youth soccer-teams. I love to see kids evolve. I have a lot of energy that needs to be released and sports is my way of getting things out of my system. I don’t like to sit still; I don’t read books and I don’t watch a lot of Netflix. But I do follow sports.
Which are your favorite teams?
I’m a passionate Man United fan if we talk about football. For Hurling – that’s a typical Irish sport – I of course root for my hometown Tipperary. And finally, when I lived in the US, I got hooked on American football and for some odd reason Kansas City Chiefs became my team.
What has been the most challenging moment in your career?
As a Finance director, I still find it somewhat challenging to overcome the prejudice about stiff shirts and ties, calculators, spreadsheets, and a dry sense of humor!!… Being an expat, it brings you the challenge of getting to know an organization quickly, ready to go from the start. But it takes time to settle in a new role, to plug in to an existing culture and finding out how you can add value. For one thing, I hope I never have to do this again in the middle of a pandemic, it was not easy from the other end of a screen. One of the greatest learnings of my life is that things are rarely as simple as they look on paper. Preconceptions are usually different to reality. You got to live the organization to understand the culture. In my experience, there’s never a one size fits all. When you move from role to role you need to spend some time understanding the people and the culture and adapt. And, maybe most importantly, you need to roll with the punches to rise to the challenges…. and have fun.
Paul Ricard had a motto to “make a friend every day” which is still a guiding principle within the group. What’s your best practice for achieving this?
I lean to people, it’s somewhat natural for me so I don’t need to read it every morning to remind me. I get my energy from people. In my life, I have some close friends, but many I like to hang out with and have great conversations with – preferably in a bar where you can have a drink and just chit chat about all and nothing.
What would you have done if you had not worked at TAC?
Well, that’s easy: Center Forward for Man United, of course. Or maybe enforcer at the back. To be honest, I have no regrets about my career. If I’d wanted to do something else, I would have done it. For me, it’s important to be attached and emotionally connected to what I do, and I have to say that for the last 18 years in Pernod Ricard, I’ve always felt that.
Absolut’s One source philosophy means that everything used to manufacture our world renown spirit comes from the nearby surroundings of our hometown Åhus, in Southern Sweden. One key ingredient in Absolut Vodka is the unique winter wheat that’s grown and harvested at the Råbelöf estate, some 20 kilometers north of Åhus.
The collaboration between the distillery and the farm has been ongoing since the late 70’s. We had a chat with Erik Bæksted, CEO at Råbelöf estate, to get his view on the longstanding partnership between Absolut and Råbelöf.
How long have you been working together with The Absolut Company?
We have a very long relationship. I think we started our collaboration as early as 1979. And our partnership has evolved a lot over the years. Today, I think we’re the single largest supplier of winter wheat, where we account for about 7-8 percent of the total amount of wheat used in production, i.e. about 8,000 tons. The trust for each other is immense and we’re constantly talking about how to collaboratively improve our methods of working and how to help each other with best practice to reach our common goals.
What are the challenges of growing wheat in Sweden?
Sweden is very well suited for growing wheat, so we are relatively well off, I would say. Skåne’s climate is optimal for cultivating wheat and we have some of the best harvests in the world – together with Denmark, England, France and The Netherlands. By comparison, the United States only generates half the amount as us per harvest, and in Australia that figure is a third. Then of course the weather is always a challenge, but random weather conditions are part of being a farmer and it is a prerequisite for growing wheat in Sweden. The same applies to some extent to the various political challenges. Agriculture is a complex business that’s closely governed by the EU. And that’s easy to understand – our products aren’t just commodities, it’s a necessity. We’re literally putting food on people’s tables.
There is often talk about the value of organic farming, but you don’t label Råbelöf as an eco-farm. Why not?
Yes, we are perhaps a bit unconventional in our way of acting. But there is a lot to think and say about ecology and to grow organically. In my opinion, it is a way of farming that was done 80 years ago. And few businesses today are run in the same way as they were in the 40’s. Over the years, the progress has been made that allows us to be more efficient and produce more and get a product that is more consistent in quality from harvest to harvest. Today we can control a lot of different factors that weren’t possible to monitor before. The analogy is much like if you run a banking business – working organically is like going back to using a bank book. One can also add further complexity to the issue: it is a fact that the world suffers from food shortages and organic farming produces only half as much as we do, which – if everyone completely switched to organic farming – would inevitably lead to starvation. Today we get consistent harvests and avoid damages to the crops. So, I see no real intrinsic value in starting to grow organically. The way we live off the land is much more sustainable in the long run, if you ask me.
How are you affected by climate change?
So far, I don’t think that we’ve been affected to any greater extent – meaning that we haven’t had to adapt our farming methods. So, this is not a big problem for us – yet. If you look historically, wheat cultivation runs in 30-year cycles. Sometimes it’s warmer and sometimes it’s colder. Right now, I would say that we are in the midst of a warm period – but these are not so extreme deviations that we need to think about changing our cultivation concept. However, we are of course always looking into new ways of farming sustainable. We have, as an example, switched to biofuel in all our tractors. This has reduced our fuel consumption by several percent. Our manure is produced in such a way that minimal carbon dioxide is emitted.
The Absolut Company has introduced a new model for its suppliers to relate to. New criteria to relate to are climate, soil health and biodiversity. How do you work with this?
I’d say we already meet most of the criteria, so for us it will not impose any major changes to our ways of working. With that said, I have a hard time seeing that we will drive around with electric tractors in the fields. Globally, 80 percent of emissions come from fossil fuels and, as I mentioned, we have already switched to biofuel, which I think is good. When it comes to our work with soil health, we balance our consumption of natural fertilizers and commercial fertilizers. We whitewash the soil to maintain the correct pH value. The earth is what we live off, so we make sure to continuously take care of it so that it can deliver the same yield year after year.